George Pullman: More than king of 'palace' railroad cars
Railroad buffs likely know all about the "might-have-been" story of George M. Pullman. The manufacturing titan built a model community for employees of his Pullman Palace Car Co. on what's now a far South Side Chicago neighborhood. But soon after, he saw his "workers' paradise" begin to collapse under national economic woe and labor strife.
Were it not for these two big blows, the town named for Pullman might have grown and thrived for decades. Even so, it did flourish briefly, boasting 12,000 residents by 1893 when the country's financial "panic" set in. A nationwide 1894 railway workers' strike ensued. It came just 10 years after the last of Pullman's 1,000 homes, community buildings and industrial facilities were completed. The town's slow decline began.
Pullman died in 1897 at age 66. But he had seen his luxury passenger cars win wide acceptance. An early version was part of President Lincoln's funeral train from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill., where he is buried.
Students of Pullman and his namesake town – so architecturally advanced its design is still "smart" today – note village amenities included indoor plumbing, gas lighting and cross-ventilation in every house - for workers and company executives and their families alike. Pullman also had the (still-standing) Florence Hotel, an arcade where shopkeepers leased space, a library, banks, schools, winding streets, doctors, parks, a church, etc.
Though not the first company town, it was nonetheless voted the "world's most perfect town" in 1896 at Prague's International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition. On Oct. 4, 2011, the American Planning Association named Pullman a "Great Neighborhood" under the APA's 2011 Great Places competition.
Steady efforts to restore Pullman include work of the Pullman Civic Organization and the Historic Pullman Foundation. They sponsor two major events: the October daylight house tour and a mid-December candlelight stroll through the village and its buildings. Mike Shymanski is President and founding member of the Pullman Foundation.
Pullman's still-living education legacy
Shymanksi tells a guest at the Pullman Visitor Center (11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave.) few people are aware of the impact George Pullman had on post-secondary education, an impact still evident today.
In his will, Pullman directed that what is now the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation "furnish awards, scholarships and other assistance for individuals pursuing post-secondary education." He left $1.2 million for the purpose, roughly the equal of $30 million in today's dollars.
His Free School of Manual Training opened in 1915 and at first was open mainly to children of Pullman Co. employees or Pullman village and nearby Roseland residents. Shymanksi says courses were chiefly in academic, commercial and technical areas. For the next 35 years, "Pullman Tech" was the training ground of highly skilled students coveted by Chicago businesses upon graduation.
But at mid-century, it was clear the Chicago Public Schools were graduating many young people with similar skills. Besides, the cost of providing free schooling for a student body grown to some 600 students was becoming a financial burden.
So Pullman Tech closed, and the non-profit Pullman Educational Foundation was created. Graduates came to be known as "Pullman Scholars." The purpose shifted, too. Pullman awards now make up the financial shortfalls that otherwise might prevent talented students from attending their choice of higher education schools.
'Pullman Scholars' today
In the six decades that the George M. Pullman Educational Foundation has issued student financial assistance, roughly 11,000 young people have received more than $27 million in student aid.
The eligibility standards have expanded. Pullman Scholars may now live anywhere in Cook County – with the exception of children or siblings of current or former Pullman Scholars who may live anywhere. To get help, they must be enrolled full-time at a U.S. college or university and show a clear need for financial help.
Foundation stipends range from $200 to $5,000 annually, depending on need. In any given year, about 300 high school students are nominated as potential Pullman Scholars by guidance counselors or approved college-access programs. Typically, between 30 and 60 students a year survive the "first-time student" scholarship selection process.
As long as Pullman Scholars maintain a satisfactory academic record and show continued financial need, they can get help throughout their undergraduate years. More about the Pullman town is available by calling 773-785-8901 or going to pullmanil.org .